The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday, September 24th during morning prayer at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. The office readings for Friday were as follows: Psalms 88, 91, 92; Esther 8:1-8, 15-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37. The homily is based on the reading from Luke.
I have never had a hard time believing in the cross. It never seemed implausible to me that the people of Jesus’s day would want to kill him. Nothing is surprising about it. It’s the way of the world, right? The cross is the natural, logical result of a righteous man confronting a wicked world.
The cross is not the surprising part of the gospel. No, the surprise comes with the resurrection. It’s resurrection, vindication, victory, peace that surprises us. Because the authority Jesus had meant that sin and death could be done away with without more sin and death.What’s surprising to us is a life transformed—a man or woman freed from their addictions, from the sins that make their life miserable.
We’re familiar with the pain of life. In some sense, then, it’s not the demons in this story that surprise us. The other people in the synagogue aren’t surprised by them. It’s not the existence and presence of dark forces that make the news. It’s that someone has authority over them.
Because what does life teach us? It teaches us that, more often than not, the evil in the world can only be fought with more evil. You’ve got to fight fire with fire. I’ve spent some time as a pastor up at the jail in Beaver County. The men I’ve met there grew up in evil circumstances—drugs, violence, abandonment, whatever you can think of—and the choices that landed them in prison reflect that.
But their prison time doesn’t have authority over the evil in their life, it just cages them. They’re not free, and, sadly, many of them are not, so to speak, “better” when they leave. I would argue that this isn’t due to a shortcoming on the prison’s part, but due to the fact that there is evil in this world we are powerless against. So it’s not surprising that rehabilitation is so rare.
The surprising moment in our gospel reading this morning occurs when Jesus casts out the demon. It’s part of the announcement of the kingdom—the new way of doing things Jesus brings to us.
So what, then, ought we to think of the demons in our own lives? Even we who confess Jesus as Lord wrestle with untamed darkness in our lives. Not that I’m saying any of us are possessed, but rather that we live in a spiritual world. Our modern society trains us to imagine that there’s nothing more to existence than what we can see. But the bible paints a different picture. We see in the scriptures a world where evil spirits cry out in church and we are warned that some of us have entertained angels though unaware.
We can’t then, think that our struggle with sin is merely a fight against our bodies and minds. There are demonic forces who are happy to suggest and cajole and push and prod us in all the place we are naturally weak.
The Christian author C.S. Lewis once said that there are two main lies humans believe about demons. One is that they do not exist—maybe you’ve heard the saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people he doesn’t exist.” The second lie is that we ought to take a great interest in demons. People who buy this second lie put their faith in astrology, divination, witchcraft and so on.
Where does that leave us, then? All our thought about the darkness and the demons in this has to begin and end with the authority of Jesus. He has been raised from the dead. He is king. And he is coming back.
Jesus has the power to deliver us from our sin. To transform us so that we are not forever enslaved to our bodies and minds. We must run to him, turn to him, get on our knees before him. We’ve got to throw ourselves on his mercy—and I proclaim this morning that we can and must be confident he will be merciful. Because only Jesus, friends, has authority over the evil in this world. Only Jesus has been murdered though righteous and vindicated by the resurrection. Only Jesus can save us, only Jesus can deliver us, only Jesus can take our filthy rags and make clean and beautiful clothes from them.
Let us turn our hearts to Jesus today, receive the Father’s mercy, and be transformed by the power of the Spirit. Let us pray.